E-tailer Bonfaire Hones Strategy

The founders of Bonfaire.com are hoping to take their fledgling website to the next level in 2013.

The membership e-commerce site, which launched in September, focuses on seasonal pre-orders for hard-to-find footwear and accessories. While brick-and-mortar stores have been using the pre-order concept for years through designer trunk shows, the concept is just beginning to take off online, said Bonfaire’s chief marketing officer, Shari Rudolph, who started the San Francisco-based company with Keiron McCammon and Joy Ajlouny. (The group has prior experience in retail, e-commerce and fashion buying.)

“I would not be surprised if we see more competitors [using the online pre-order business model],” Rudolph said. “We have seen tremendous growth in the first few months, and we are building our entire company around the concept.”

She noted that given the timeframe of the sales, Bonfaire does not carry an inventory. Instead, it works directly with designers to curate a selection, host an online trunk show and then have the designers make the items. As a result, delivery estimates range from a few weeks to a few months. But the concept also has its benefits, said Rudolph. “[Because] we are representing collections ahead of time, we are able to take more chances on [the product assortment],” she added.

Although Rudolph declined to reveal sales figures, she said memberships, which are free, and purchases have steadily increased since the site’s debut. “We are happy with what we are seeing on the sales side,” she said. “We didn’t know how the holiday season would impact us because we are not a traditional retailer, [but] we were pleasantly surprised to see a lot of growth during the holiday season, and it has picked up even more now that we have hit January.”

Going forward, the company’s goals include expanding the platform to include interactive content, as well as honing the product mix, which so far has spanned a vast price range — from jewelry for less than $100 to $2,000 Marchesa handbags. Footwear offerings have come from Giambattista Valli, Pasha and emerging designer Ivy Kirzhner. Diego Dolcini is up soon, and Rudolph said the label Inuovo is also on her radar.

“We focus on designers who exhibit a traditional value around quality and craftsmanship, but they also balance that with a modern sensibility,” Rudolph said. “It has been the sweet spot from a merchandising strategy perspective, so we will continue to evolve that.”

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